Tag Archives: Crafts

Quilt: Make a block with me

Last fall I made eight quilts, one for each of Jim’s siblings. When I was done, I wanted to make one for Jim, also. I made a quilt for him a few years ago, but he has it hung on his office wall. It isn’t a quilt to cuddle under.

Here is Jim’s quilt. It’s about 70″ square, plenty big for two people to cuddle under.

The center block of Jim’s quilt is the same as a block used in one of the siblings quilts.

I made another version, also, just because I liked it so much. It became the center of the little quilt for a little girl.

The blocks were inspired by a block I saw on a pattern, so I can’t take credit for originality. You can make this block, too — it’s easier than it looks. With block made, you can make more to make a larger quilt, frame it once with a border and make a table mat, or make a number of borders for an old-fashioned medallion quilt. What you do with yours is up to you!

For a tutorial on building this block, click here.


A little quilt for a little girl

by Melanie in IA

Earlier in the year I was working on several projects at the same time. While trying to quilt one of two projects for friends, I had a lot of trouble with the bobbin tension. Though I fixed it and the project was salvaged, I wanted to try quilting one more before I quilted a more important project.

I didn’t have anything else lined up, ready to quilt as a test project. So I made one. Today I’ll show you the quilt and the little throw pillow to go with it. In a couple of days I’ll show you how I made the quilt’s center block.

For this little quilt I used a center block made last fall. After turning the block on point, I framed it with small squares on point, using the last of the chartreuse fabric. A simple border with block corners finishes it.

No tension trouble slowed me down on this one. I used free-motion flowers and loops all over. A few days later I sorted through a bin and found the star block used on the pillow. It’s one a sister made but didn’t use for another project — an orphan block, as they’re called. A couple of days ago I finally framed the star and made a throw pillow case

I’ll send the quilt and the pillow to my great-niece, who just turned two. It’ll be a wonderful little quilt for a little girl to drag around.

Getting rid of stuff

A parent dies; a child moves out. Time passes and we accumulate things, usually at a faster pace than we rid ourselves of them. And one day we look around and realize we have a problem. In many ways it’s a problem of good fortune, but it’s a problem nonetheless.

The problem is stuff. Well, I take that back. The problem isn’t stuff. It’s what stuff does to our mental and physical spaces. Stuff is in our way.

What spurs you to finally get rid of stuff? A change in circumstances, such as a move, an addition or absence of a family member in the household? A look around in disgust or frustration? How much time do you spend moving things, cleaning around things, pushing through things? How much stuff do you need?

In my prior career, I worked with trust officers in a large bank, which often served as executor or administrator for estates. In that capacity, or as trustee for some of our clients who could no longer take care of their own affairs, the trust officers cleaned out homes. They didn’t physically do the cleaning, but they needed to fully assess the assets and determine where things should go. It could take many days immersed in other people’s stuff. Then they would wash their hands, go home, and get rid of things in their own homes.

A lot of us have dealt with the belongings of parents after their death or move to a nursing home. A lot of us understand the emotions of making those decisions, and the tangles of decisions when multiple family members are involved. In some ways, the trust officers’ job is easy, because they have the luxury of objectivity.

There is a spectrum, of course, of those who keep things. When my dad moved to his last home, a small townhouse, he got rid of everything that wasn’t useful to him, or aesthetically important. Music and artwork he kept. It was easy for him, not a sentimental guy. I am not as far to that end of the spectrum as he was.

But one thing he did keep is a teddy bear, which my son and I had sent to him after his divorce. He’d said one thing he missed was having someone to hold. Son was about 5 at the time, and helped me pick a teddy for my dad.

When Dad was in the hospital for the last time (dying from lymphoma), we went to his townhouse and saw there, on his bed, was the teddy bear.

That bear lives with us now, and is not a thing I would give away, either.

Aside from a few things like that, I’m not very nostalgic for things. Scrapbooking, photo albums, boxes full of sentimental items – that’s just not me. Maybe it’s because I’m the youngest of five children born in quick succession. Most of my clothes and toys when I was a kid were hand-me-downs. By the time I was done using it, it was used up and went away. And mostly I didn’t have a sense of anything being just mine, so I’m not very possessive that way. It makes it easy to get rid of things.

As a quilter, I do have fabric. Some quilters have rooms full of fabric, garages, basements, extra sheds, full of fabric. Compared to many quilters I know, I don’t have a lot. All of it fits in the top of one TV armoire, neatly separated into plastic bins by color. When bins are overflowing, when there is too much fabric to fit, I feel uneasy, as if I need to get busy, sew more, use more, justify the possession of such wealth. I do use it, but I can’t shake the feeling that my inflow of new fabrics shouldn’t be more, on average, than what I use.

I do not want to die with a room full of fabric that should have been quilts instead. I’ve heard too many stories of women who die, whose relatives end up taking all that cloth to the dump. That’s not just a waste of money – at $10 a yard or so, quilting fabric is expensive! It’s also a waste of opportunity.

But fabric isn’t the only issue, is it? As you look around, what do you see that would baffle your heirs? Is it the secret stash of plastic grocery bags, more than enough to cover your city in plastic? The glass jars with lids, which are never used again? The books falling from every surface, ones you’re no longer attached to for the content, but just can’t seem to part with? A closet full of clothes that no one will wear again? The full contents of your parents’ house?

Stuff. Everyone has it. No one knows what to do with it.

Generally, there are three things to do with stuff, besides just keep it. Throw it away, give it away, or sell it. That sounds simple, yes? Of course it isn’t always.

Click here for ideas of where to offload your stuff.

My stash is NOT making me happy

by Melanie in IA

Quilters love fabric. Some quilters love fabric so much, they buy more of it than they will ever use. There is a great yahoo group called “Stashbusters,” devoted to helping quilters push through their stash and their projects. A local shop has a Sunday group called “SABLE,” or “stash acquired beyond lifetime expectancy.”

I don’t have too much stash. My stash problem is of a different sort. More about that in a minute.

Where or when did you develop your love of fabric?  My love comes from my mother. My mother could make anything. With a very limited budget and five young children, she sewed, built and refinished furniture, upholstered, painted rooms, rewired lamps, and generally did anything she could to create a comfortable home for us. When I was little, she made dresses for my sisters and me. When we were married, she made the bridesmaids’ dresses. She paid a lot of bills doing alterations and custom sewing, and for several years, she made costumes for community theatre productions.

Her creativity was well suited for costume-making. I remember shopping expeditions to find fabrics. How many little girls can identify moiré satins and taffetas and brocades, twills and crepes and organzas? We spent a lot of time feeling the fabrics, as that was part of how she could tell how well it would drape, how it would reflect the stage lights, and how rich or poor the character would look.

I still love fabric. I still go to the stores and fondle the bolts, unroll a yard or more to check the drape, stand back to “ooh” and “aah” over the beautiful colors and patterns. I sort through my own small stash before beginning each project, and I enjoy touching each piece.

Sewing From Stash

Some people account for yardage purchased and yardage used, letting them know just how much they have in “inventory.” I’ve never done that, but I do have ONE cabinet in which my fabric lives. (All of my quilting stash is in the top of it.) I can tell when the cabinet is getting fuller and emptier. Unlike Old Mother Hubbard, my cabinet is far from bare. But the bins are getting a little lighter.

One of the things I love about sewing from stash is the push to greater creativity. Figuring out how to make things go together, what blocks I have yardage to make, whether they’ll need to be scrappy or not, are all creative decisions that are different when sewing from stash than when buying new yardage. Scrappy quilts make great use of stash, with small amounts cut from many fabrics. Other projects, though, call for more cohesion in color or pattern, making it hard to quilt from stash.

Quilters love fabric. Some are fabric collectors, seeking out new treasures wherever they go and building a stash that would last several lifetimes. Others buy only enough for the project at hand. It’s likely there is a happy medium.

And when you keep your stash fairly small as I do, occasionally  you need some major stash replenishment.

Is your stash making you happy?
Recently I read an essay that suggested thinking about the kind of fabric you used when you started quilting, what you are using now, and what you would like to use as your art develops. Then over time, deliberately move your stash toward the art you want to make. What should you do with the “old” stash?  Use it, sell it, or give it away. Free yourself from caring for things you no longer need. Remove reminders of projects you know you will never make, and the guilt that goes with seeing them all the time. Reduce the time it takes to dig through stacks of fabric you don’t even like. Allow your creativity to expand when you are not weighed down sorting, folding, and storing the old stash. When you are no longer moving around the old, you will have time and space to try something new.

My stash is NOT making me happy.
I have the wrong stuff.

I’ve especially noticed the problem with my reds and greens, the two colors I use most. Over the last couple of years, my reds have devolved  to the point that they are all the same — there is little variety. They are RED, some red with fine designs, some red on red, some just red. But they are RED. Not enough variety.

The same problem exists in a somewhat different way with my greens. I actually have two bins of green, one of light greens and one of dark greens. Even so, there is not enough variety.

When I want to choose from my color palette, I don’t have enough to choose from, and it’s hard to make my quilts feel fresh and interesting. I want to continue to evolve in how I used color and shape, but my limited stash is making that harder to do.

Shopping for stash.
Though I do buy fabric just for stash, most of my purchases are for specific projects. Usually when I am buying, I don’t have a fully developed project plan, so I buy what I assume is “too much,” and pieces I might not use, knowing anything left will help fill out my bins.

But now I need to shop for stash. Yesterday I went with three other women on a little road trip to LeClaire, Iowa. There is a quilt shop there with yardage different from what closer shops carry, making it worth the trip. I bought four fat quarters to add to my “lights,” a yard of red-on-red that is different (REALLY!), and two yards of a blue print that is neither childish nor masculine. Besides those, I added a couple of other cuts, including a panel print for quilting practice.

These will help, but I’ll need to budget more time and money to move my stash forward. Fresh colors evoke new combinations of shape, also, allowing me to evolve as a quilter.

First quarter quilt round-up

by Melanie in IA

It’s been a busy three months of quilting for me.

The Charity Quilts

I started the year with a group project. An online group in which I participated was creating two quilts for auction. Each quilt is to support a different non-profit organization. There were 12 blocks made for each quilt, and each quilt used a different color scheme. Each contributing member made a block to finish to 12″. Then they sent the blocks to me. My task was to assemble the individual blocks into attractive quilt tops.

Anyone who has participated in group quilting projects knows that sizes aren’t always consistent. If one quilter uses a scant 1/4″ seam allowance, and one uses a fat 1/4″ seam allowance, it might have minimal impact on their own projects, as long as they always do the same thing.

A block that finishes at 12″ ideally should be UN-finished at 12.5″. The blocks I received ranged from about 12″ unfinished to up to 13″. The larger ones were deliberately over-sized, giving me room to trim and square. The smaller ones… were more of a challenge.

Before I started I asked my good friend Beth to come over to consult. She’s a quilter, too, but more than that, she’s an artist. We are creative in somewhat different ways, so we find solutions differently. I knew I would need to frame the blocks to make them all the same size. She suggested framing all the blocks with the same fabric I used for the sashing and borders. That would allow the size differences to disappear completely. Besides that, she helped me choose fabric from my stash for the first of the two projects.

The color scheme for the first project included black, red, white, yellow, and tan. The project supports a Native American community in South Dakota. The fabric we chose for the framing, sashing, and borders is almost black, with a coppery brown graphic design on it, so it reads as brown. After trying several others, and then seeing the black/brown, we knew that was right.

I made the twelfth block and then assembled the top. When I was done with it and with the second one, I mailed them to the professional quilter who was finishing them. The quilter is Laura at Butterfly Quilting. She does amazing work, and the group was very fortunate to have her services.

This is the first quilt. It’s in the process of being auctioned now. The second one is on the frame now and will be sold later. I’m proud to have been part of the effort.

The Comfort Quilt

I had another project in the works at the same time. A friend had asked me to make a comfort quilt for his significant other, a woman with whom I’m acquainted but do not know well. She’s planning to have hip replacement surgery soon. As an avid bicyclist, the pain of a hip joint with no cartilage has become too much.

I do not make quilts on request. It’s a “thing.” I just don’t. A quilt from me needs to be a gift from me. And though I always make a quilt trying to please the recipient, I don’t take orders for them. (I did make quilts for both my daughters after shopping for fabric with them. Still, it was my offer to do so, and the designs were my choice completely.)

This time, though, I agreed. I would make a quilt for her, in return for a donation from him to a food agency. We agreed on an agency and a dollar amount. I began the quilt and finished the top. Her surgery was delayed, and another friend’s life changed quickly, and I switched gears.

The Wedding Quilt

In the fall of last year a dear friend got engaged. Excited for him, for his dream come true, I planned to make a wedding quilt. With their event scheduled for June of this year, I had plenty of time. However at the beginning of this year, his fiance became quite ill. It soon became apparent they had little time left. At the beginning of February I began making a quilt, intended to be a symbol of their everlasting love, regardless of their physical time together.

I started a medallion quilt, perhaps my favorite form. I wanted it masculine, strong, traditional. My friend has many antiques in his home, and I thought he’d appreciate the ties to the past.

Speaking of ties, I realized quickly that many of the fabrics I chose were “foulards,” a type of print often used in men’s ties. Barbara Brackman explains them this way:

One distinctive print style is a small isolated figure set in diagonal repeat. Figures fall in a half-drop repeat with rows aligned in staggered fashion, giving the over-all effect of a diamond grid. The figure may be a flower, leaf, paisley cone, or motif so abstract it is identified only as a mignonette (little fancy). The print style with its diagonal, neat design is also known as an Indienne, a copy of an Indian-style print. And, because these prints were so fashionable for scarves, the French word for scarf, foulard, came to mean any half-drop print of isolated small figures. In the years between 1840 and 1865, Americans craved foulards to the point that they became a standard for American clothing and quilts.

Besides the foulards, I chose a border print on dark red, which I used for the first interior border as well as the last border. When I turned the center on point, I used a tan-on-cream toile, continuing the traditional theme. And the lovely French-style small medallions accented the center and carried the dark red into more layers of the quilt.

After assembling the top, I decided to piece the back from my stash. I cut 36 squares and distributed the colors throughout. Once top and back were ready, I quilted it with wool batting. The finished quilt is about 77″ square, big enough to top a queen-sized bed.

Start to finish, including a label and mailing, this quilt took me 16 days, a land-speed record for me.

Sadly, my friend’s fiance had died in the interim, a tragic ending to a magical romance.

The Strip Quilt

A small piece in a much longer story (not to be told today) is the strip quilt. More than two years ago I helped my friend Lisa make a baby quilt for her coming grandson. Lisa is not a quilter, so we modified a very simple strip quilt design, to make it something she could do without quilting skills. I needed a similarly simple quilt for a project this year, and used the same basic plan. (Lisa! Call me!)

Though the comfort quilt was ready to put on my frame, I wanted to quilt something else first for practice. I chose the strip quilt. It is small, it would be easy, and when done I would feel confident and ready for the more important project.

But it didn’t go well.

The quilt is narrow, about 35″, and I was able to quilt almost half of it in one pass on my long-arm frame. And when I finished that pass and rolled the quilt to advance it, I saw: the bottom thread tension was pretty bad. The tension was much too tight, leading to the thread lying on the fabric surface, instead of embedding the loops in the layers. It looked messy, badly done. But I had quilted densely enough that picking it all out was out of the question.

I adjusted the tension and finished quilting, feeling defeated. That much longer story already had me down, and then this… The problems with this small quilt seemed never-ending.

No matter what, someone would get this quilt. I finish things. There are very few UFOs in my stash. So I bound it (which didn’t go great, either.) And when it was done, I wondered, what if I washed and dried it? Would the tension problems fade in view as the fabric and thread puckered some from the wash?

And glory be! It came out of the dryer looking better! Though I can still tell which side was done with bad tension, no one else would see unless they looked for it. The fabric on the back is very busy, disguising a lot of sins in the pattern. And as hoped, the puckering from washing helped the rest pull up and into the layers.

Finished, the quilt is about 35″x60″. I actually like it quite a lot. The fabric is soft and smooth; the quilting makes it drape nicely. But the problems and the untold long story make it a quilt I can’t keep.

The Test Quilt

The bad tension made me wary, even though I fixed it. I wanted to do one more project on the frame before starting the comfort quilt. The only other project I had ready was too complex. I needed something much easier. So I made one.

For this little quilt I used a center block made last fall. After turning the block on point, I framed it with squares on point, using the last of the chartreuse fabric.

It’s not bound yet. When it’s done I’ll send it and a small throw pillow to my great-niece, who just turned two. It’ll be a great little quilt for a little girl to drag around.

The Round Robin

In January my small quilting group began a round robin. Each of us created a center block. During our January meeting we passed them so another member could add to them. In February we did the same. Now the blocks each have two borders added. I don’t have a photo of my own starting block. Here is the block of another member, with the border I added for our February meeting. This is the first border.

And this is a different project with two borders added.

In April each project will have three borders. We have a goal of finishing the projects, including quilting and binding, by our September meeting.

A Project for Me

Like many quilters (and other crafters), I rarely do projects just for me. Needing a little indulgence, I started one with pieces leftover from the wedding quilt. Though I started with pinks and greens, a pink and green quilt was not my intention. When I tried fabric to make the first border, the purple spoke to me, and it said, “Pair me up with that pale aqua. We won’t do you wrong.” It didn’t lie. I love the direction they took it.

Next I chose the bright teal to edge the small triangles, and after that, the only thing I could imagine was a riot of triangles that brought some yellow into the mix.

I’ve started another border since this photo was taken, and I have a tentative plan for the one after that. But I won’t know what this quilt will look like until it’s done. The improvisation, taking one step at a time, is part of the pleasure for me. It’s one of the reasons I love medallion quilts. They don’t need a full plan from the beginning. They don’t need a plan at all!

When it’s done, I think this will be for my own bed. Quilted with wool batting, it will be soft and light, a great weight for half the year.

Back to the Comfort Quilt

The recipient of this now has her surgery scheduled for the end of April. After quilting the “test” quilt for my great-niece, I was confident that I could manage the comfort quilt. As mentioned, the woman who will get it is a bicyclist, which drove my design. In addition, my friend told me she would like it done in cream, tan, taupe, and brown. I countered that I needed another color, not being comfortable with a monochromatic palette. He added blue to the mix, and so did I.

Pinwheels that seem to spin were the natural choice for the blocks. Also I found a wonderful border fabric in brown, with a blue “wallpaper” print on it. Though the print has a lacy effect, it also is somewhat angular and suits the rest of the design.

I quilted it with continuous spirals, spinning in and out like wind through the spokes of her bike.

It’s a beautiful quilt and I hope she loves it. (And I hope she doesn’t see the photo here before she receives it!) My emotional attachment to the quilt is minimal, and my reward is knowing that a food recovery agency will receive a helpful donation.

What have you been working on this quarter?